It is Mahapushkaram with all roads leading to the river, writes M. Rajeev and B. Chandrashekhar
The Godavari Maha Pushkaram, the Hindu tradition associated with worship of River Godavari, got off to a devout start in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with lakhs of pilgrims thronging the Pushkar ghats along the over 1,000-km stretch of the river passing through the two States.
From Basar in Telangana, where the Godavari enters the Telugu States, to Antarvedi in East Godavari where it reaches the sea – 300 ghats have been decked up to meet the rush of pilgrims, expected to be of the order of close to 10 crores.
According to legend, Pushkaram is a festival of rivers, 12 important ones in the country, occurring once in 12 years for each river. The river for each year’s festival is based on the position of Jupiter in the Zodiac, the pushkaram lasting for a period as long as the planet remains there. It is believed that Pushkarudu, or the Pushkar God, who is so powerful as to make any river holy, travels with Jupiter.
River Godavari is associated with Leo, the fifth sign for the fifth sacred river in the order of reckoning. The ritual this time has a special significance in that the Maha Pushkaram, as it is called, occurs once in 144 years, corresponding with the 12th recurrence of the 12-year cycle. The festival started on the Chaturdasi day (14th day) of the Ashada month when Jupiter entered the sign of Leo.
It is believed that during the first 12 days (Aadi Pushkaram) of the festival, the river is said to be charged with medicinal properties and this helps sharpen the mind. Pilgrims from all over congregate to have a holy dip with the belief that they would be relieved of all sins. Also they perform rituals to departed souls. It is believed that all deities and sages are present here during Pushkaram.
The two Governments have vied with one another to make the Pushkaram, the first event after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, a grand affair. The Telangana Government has allocated around Rs. 700 crores for making arrangements for ensuring pilgrim convenience while its Andhra Pradesh counterpart has allocated Rs. 1,300 crores. The Central Government had sanctioned Rs. 100 crores for Andhra Pradesh Government and Rs. 50 crores for the Telangana Government.
The Telangana Government had released water from the dams upstream including Sriramsagar, Yellampalli and Kadem projects to enable pilgrims take a holy dip in the river. The Andhra Pradesh Government has organised cultural shows including the sound and light shows during the 12-day mega event.
The AP Government has arranged Godavari arathi on a regular basis besides a shoba yatra to mark the once-in-144-years celebrations. Security arrangements have been made all along the course of the river in the two States with close to 40,000 uniformed personnel being posted.
While CCTVs with infrared capability to capture images even during the night, have been installed at all vantage points in the two States, the AP Government went a step further in deploying drones to monitor the movement of pilgrims at important places such as Rajahmundry. Apps have also been pressed into service to update pilgrims about the situation at the ghats and services such as transport.
Voluntary organisations, including cultural outfits and NGOs, have joined the Governments in providing food, drinking water and other amenities to the pilgrims.